Spanish flag carrier Iberia recently began a fleet renewal that includes the Airbus A350-900XWB as its centerpiece. The Madrid-based airline first took delivery of the ultra-modern aircraft in June before deploying it on short-haul routes in Europe, notably Madrid-London, for crew training purposes. Its first long-haul flight took place on Aug. 4 from Madrid to New York, a route that its two sole A350s are currently deployed on to this day.
It’s been just over two months since the aircraft took its place on the route, one of Iberia’s most popular, and the airline invited AirlineGeeks to come and check it out in-between flights.
For the tour, we had the pleasure of being onboard EC-MXV, also known as Placido Domingo, which was the first A350 to be delivered to Iberia back in June. Since its arrival at Iberia, the aircraft flew its first flight between Madrid’s Barajas International Airport and London’s Heathrow Airport before moving to the New York route and flying the inaugural A350 service between Madrid and New York on Aug. 4. For the last two months, it’s been on a steady diet of flying between Madrid and New York.
Landing on JFK’s Runway 31R, we were able to watch its landing and short taxi to nearby Terminal 7, the British Airways-owned terminal that Iberia, British Airways’ sister airline under the International Airlines Group, operates its twice-daily flights to Madrid from.
Iberia is one of only three carriers that operate from Terminal 7, along with British Airways and Qatar Airways, although Qatar only operates its morning flight from the terminal.
Passing through the newly-renovated Terminal 7, we were able to see the new enhancements such as a new security checkpoint and British Airways First Class Lounge. Our aircraft was waiting for us at Gate 7, where it would depart to Madrid as IB6250.
As the aircraft was in between flights at the time, I and another journalist only had the opportunity to tour the aircraft for a few minutes. The 348-seat aircraft features a 3 class configuration consisting of business, premium economy and economy, and boasts high-speed KU in-flight WiFi and personal seatback entertainment systems at every seat.
Walking onboard the aircraft, we started our visit in business class and worked our way back.
Our tour began in Iberia’s eight-row business class. With 31 seats in total, the cabin only extends from the front boarding door to the second boarding door. Since Iberia recently introduced a premium economy cabin, the seats were taken from business class, resulting in a shortened forward cabin.
The cabin features 31 Stelia Solstys seats in a staggered configuration, similar to those found on Iberia’s A330 and A340 aircraft but with slight enhancements. The staggered configuration is now incredibly common on A350s with airlines such as Qatar Airways and Philippine Airlines adopting the style on their A350-1000s and A350-900s, respectively.
Upgraded from the seats found on the A330 and A340 aircraft, these seats feature more storage space and larger high definition screens measuring 18-inches, 2.6 inches more than the 15.4-inch screens found on the older aircraft. The 180-degree lie-flat seats also feature 26 inches of width with 78 inches of pitch.
In the center aisle, two types of pairs exist, individual and honeymoon. The honeymoon seat pair allows for two people traveling together to be seated directly next to each other with as little separation as possible. This pair is ideal for couples, as the nickname suggests, but not ideal for two strangers. For when you don’t know the person sitting next to you, a partition can be raised for privacy.
The individual seat is closer to the aisle and provides more privacy due to the partition between the seat next to you. In this seat, your table and storage spaces are to the right of you to provide an extra modicum of separation between your rowmate.
Along the sides of the cabin, you’ll also find two types of seat: aisle and window. Although both have undisturbed access to the window and direct aisle access, one seat is closer to the aisle and one to the window. Frequent travelers have stated their preference to the seat closer to the window since it’s more enclosed and away from the aisle providing more privacy, especially when sleeping.
In the aisle seat, you’ll be able to easily slide in and out of the seat into the aisle. A thin armrest acts as a divider between you and aisle to provide some separation, as well as to prevent you from rolling off during sleep. Here, the table and storage spaces are to your left, separating the seat from the window.
At each seat, you’ll also find a remote to control the personal entertainment system, a control panel for your seat’s recline, a personal reading light, a 110v AC power outlet, a USB charging port and bounds of storage space. The tray table is a singular table that comes down from the console to the right or left of the screen, depending on what seat you’re in.
Moving towards the rear of the aircraft, we encountered the premium economy cabin nestled in between business and economy. The 4-row cabin is one of Iberia’s newest additions to its aircraft, debuting the product less than two years ago.
The premium economy is in a 2-4-2 configuration, typical for most widebody aircraft. While there is a partition between economy and premium economy for the center aisle seats, no such partition exists for the seats on the sides of the cabin.
These seats feature 37 inches of pitch and 19 inches of width. At each seat, you’ll find a large pillow and blanket, adjustable headrest and footrest, personal seatback entertainment system with 12-inch HD screens, a remote for the entertainment systems, a 110v AC power outlet, a USB charging port and a center console separating you and the people next to you.
Out of the 24-seats in this cabin, only 4 are middle seats. All seats come with an extended recline of around 7-inches, enhanced meal service, amenity kit and noise canceling headphones.
Last but not least, the economy cabin features 293-seats in a 3-3-3 configuration. Taking up the rear cabins of the aircraft, separated by a galley mid-way.
These seats feature 31-inches of pitch and 18-inches of width, adjustable headrest, a personal seatback entertainment system and a foldable tray table. On each seat, you’ll find a pillow and blanket, as well.
Our tour concluded in the rear galley of the aircraft, where flight attendants were hard at work preparing for the upcoming 6-hour overnight flight to back to base in Madrid. If you looked closely enough, you’d be able to spot an easter egg in the form of Iberia’s old logo, side by side with its new one. The crew bunk is also accessible from the rear galley, although we didn’t have time to take a peek.
The night before our aircraft visit, Iberia held a private concert in New York City. The main feature of the concert was the song Volando, meaning “flying” in Spanish. The song is a tribute to the joy and majesty of flight but is also an homage to the Airbus A350 and Iberia’s employees with the theme for the night being “Crossing the Atlantic never sounded so sweet.”
“The arrival of the Airbus A350 to the company has been a project that has generated great enthusiasm among Iberia employees, and Volando is a tribute to all of them,” said Juan Cicero, director of communications, Iberia.
The song, composed by Spanish musician Javier Limon of Casa Limon, features singers from countries across Iberia’s route network from Israel to Colombia and numerous places in between. In another nod to the A350, the song is 3 minutes and 50 seconds long. Although sung in Iberia’s native Spanish, the melody is quite catchy even for a non-Spanish speaker.
“When Iberia told me that she was going to receive her new planes, I thought that 3: 50 is a perfect duration for a song,” said Limon. “In addition, music -like airplanes- unites people and brings cultures closer together and that is what Volando is about, connecting us through a melody full of good vibrations.”
Venezuelan singer Nella Rojas headlined the show with Limon on guitar, then inviting the other singers on stage to perform the song. The music video for the song, featuring each of the voices in the song, can be found here and features a special guest at the end, the Airbus A350.
Iberia’s Fleet Plans
Iberia’s A350-900XWB will serve as the backbone for the airline’s plan to achieve eight percent annual growth until 2022. While the aircraft is the logical next step for the Airbus-dominated carrier, it means that the aging legends such as the A340-600, currently only operated by a handful of airlines around the world, will soon be retired.
The airline has 16 orders for the aircraft in total, scheduled for delivery between now and 2021, as well as orders for the Airbus A320neo that will also help propel the planned fleet renewal and growth plans. Until it receives those additional aircraft, you can likely find an Iberia A350 in the air somewhere between Madrid and New York.
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